Minutes after Alison Lundergan Grimes launched her Senate bid in Kentucky the battle lines were drawn, with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell tying the Democrat to President Obama and the agenda of “Washington liberals.”
Foreseeing the attack, Mrs. Grimes countered that the 2014 election will give Kentuckians the chance to tap the state’s next senator — not the next commander-in-chief.
“I agree with thousands of Kentuckians that Kentucky is tired of 28 years of obstruction, that Kentucky is tired of someone who has voted against raising the minimum wage while all the while quadrupling his own net worth,” Mrs. Grimes told reporters. “Kentucky is tired of a senior senator that has lost touch with Kentucky issues, voters and their values.”
The dueling messages are likely a preview of the rhetorical battles to come in the Kentucky race, which could prove to be one of the most watched campaigns in the nation — pitting Mrs. Grimes, a 34-year-old newcomer to national politics, against Mr. McConnell, a 71-year-old staple of Washington and the longest-ever serving senator from Kentucky.
She was viewed as Democrats’ best hope of unseating Mr. McConnell after actress Ashley Judd announced in March that she was taking a pass on the race.
Mr. McConnell welcomed Mrs. Grimes to the race Monday by saying that it was courageous for her to accept the “invitation from countless Washington liberals to become President Obama’s Kentucky candidate.”
“The next 16 months will provide a great opportunity for Kentuckians to contrast a liberal agenda that promotes a war on coal families and government-rationed health care with someone who works everyday to protect Kentuckians from those bad ideas,” he said.
At her brief news conference, Mrs. Grimes distanced herself from Mr. Obama, who lost the state by 22 points in the 2012 election and is seeking to impose new regulations on power plants.
“We cannot change who our president is,” she said. “But we can change who we have in Washington representing Kentucky.”
A spokesperson for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Senate GOP’s campaign arm, mocked the Grimes campaign rollout as the “Worst Launch Ever” and a McConnell campaign spokesman said “we hate to see someone flounder so badly.”
A spokesman for the Grimes campaign responded that Monday’s announcement was not a formal launch, and that she will have a top-tier campaign.
Public Policy Polling released a poll in April that showed Mr. McConnell leading Mrs. Grimes by 4 points. The poll also showed that 54 percent of the respondents disapproved of Mr. McConnell’s job performance while 35 percent approved.
Stephen Voss, political science professor at the University of Kentucky, warned not to read too much into Mr. McConnell’s approval rating, saying that it is driven in large part by disgruntled voters on the right side of the political spectrum who are unlikely to swing their support behind Mrs. Grimes in a general election.
“He clearly has the advantage in terms of political orientation of the voters, the fact that he has whatever financial support he needs, and the fact that his seniority in congress would be bad for Kentucky to lose,” Mr. Voss said. “Because of those three things, [the race] is his to lose.”
“We have a whole lot of people who are registered Democrats, but who show little loyalty toward the national Democratic Party,” Mr. Voss said. “So the challenge for Grimes is to get voters to forget about that she caucuses with Obama’s allies in Washington, D.C., and have her seen as a moderate Democrat.”
Mr. Voss said that Mrs. Grimes can’t be counted out, pointing out that she has the stature to raise enough money to mount a serious challenge, and could make inroads with the voters that supported then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton in the 2008 presidential primary.
He also said that she could also benefit from having “no ideological profile” as long as she can define herself before Mr. McConnell casts her in a negative light.